Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sherlock Holmes & Canada

New Sherlock Holmes Mystery!
Now available on Amazon.ca

Cold-Hearted Murder is a Sherlock Holmes story that showcases the great Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sherlock Holmes Mystery

NOW IN PAPERBACK!
Cold-Hearted Murder by Stephen Gaspar is now available in paperback for the first time. Here is the opening chapter that you can read for free.
  Look for Cold-Hearted Murder on Amazon.


  1. Mr. Sherlock Holmes
In my long association with Sherlock Holmes I had naturally grown accustomed to his every mood, habit and peculiarity. I say peculiarity because that is the only word that comes to mind for a man who engaged in indoor pistol practice, kept his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe of a Persian slipper, and transfixed his unanswered correspondence with a jack-knife in the very centre of the mantelpiece. His sleep was irregular—being a late riser as a rule except when on a case, where he could forgo rest for days on end up to an entire week—as were his meals that were put off or done away with all together, or could simply be replaced by a crude sandwich stuffed into his pocket. It was not that Sherlock Holmes did not appreciate a fine meal, for he did, it was only that he did not wish to expend energy on digesting food, but rather preferred that the blood rush to his head so to promote brain activity.
As to his personal habits, Holmes had a catlike love for personal cleanliness, but was not always so neat in the way he kept our rooms on Baker Street. He would sometimes smoke a great deal, often filling the sitting room with the choking stench of strong shag tobacco. The detective often demonstrated that he was in peak physical condition, which, as a medical man, myself, intrigued me for he took no formal exercise. Indeed, Holmes could often be found lying in bed all day, or he would lie upon the sofa for days on end in the sitting room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning til night. He was spry enough when the spirit moved him, which was only when he was on a case. The man possessed an iron constitution that seemed to stem from his own will, but he would consistently push the limits of endurance with little or no regard to his physical well-being.
His features were somewhat striking, and his tall lean frame stood more than six feet in height. His piercing grey eyes and a hawk-like nose gave one the impression of a great old bird of prey, while his narrow face, thin lips, jutting chin and dark features spoke of a man of wilful determination.
His mental powers are well known to anyone who has read my accounts of his cases. A person only need see that great domed skull of his to know that it contained a great mind, which it did indeed, and it often reminded me of a finely precise and balanced machine. Holmes had, in his life, amassed a good deal of knowledge, and though much of it seemed uncommon or unusual, it served him well in the niche he had cut out for himself as the only unofficial consulting detective. ‘My mind is like a racing engine,’ Holmes once said to me, ‘tearing itself to pieces because it is not connected up with the work for which it was built.’ Without work to occupy that incredible mind, Holmes would mope about the sitting room, falling into black moods or even worse, deep depressions.
In the summer of 1901, my friend Sherlock Holmes had fallen into such a depression.
“There are no more great cases,” said Sherlock Holmes as he reclined upon the settee in the corner of our sitting room at Baker Street.
These were the first words he had uttered in many days, breaking the silence brought on by the inactivity and idleness he loathed. He had not had a case since The Adventure of the Priory School, but that had taken place in the middle of May, and much of the summer months had passed leaving Holmes with nothing with which to occupy that remarkable mind of his. The month of May had been a relatively busy one for my friend Aside from the Priory School, the Abergavenny murder trial had taken place, which Holmes was directly involved. Though the case was covered in the newspapers, they all failed to report, for one reason or other, that the murder was solved mainly through the efforts of Sherlock Holmes. The solution of the case had hinged, Holmes discovered, upon a missing rosary bead. That same month my friend had also been directly involved in the case of the Ferrers Documents. That case had threatened to tear northern England apart, but had likewise been resolved in no small way through the efforts of Mister Sherlock Holmes.
Since May, however, there had been but few who crossed over the threshold of our Baker Street rooms, and, regretfully, the last three months had held little or no interest for my friend. As time went on, it was harder and harder to catch his curiosity or to drag him into some drama.
The month of August had been unusually hot and muggy, which did little to improve Holmes’s mood. Though my military stint in Afghanistan had made me accustom to warmer climates, even I began to feel the effects of the heat as the mercury rose well over ninety. The window shades remained half-drawn to keep out the strong glare of the sun. The air seemed to hang thick and heavy, causing laboured breathing, and the humidity made life uncomfortable. All of the windows of our upper floor rooms were open and the sounds of the street drifted up and wafted inside. Fortunately, the excessive heat kept outdoor activities to a minimum so the noise was not disturbing in the least. A dreary haze hung over the city of London lending everything a dull-coloured hue, which seemed to mirror Holmes’s own aseptic air.
For the past several days Sherlock Holmes had moped about our Baker Street rooms in a restless fashion moving from one chair to another. He sat about in his mouse-coloured dressing gown seldom bothering to change out of his bedclothes. He had smoked incessantly, not any of his pipes which spoke of an introspective or contemplative mood, but instead cigarette after cigarette of different brands which told me he merely wished to occupy himself with some mundane action while still practising his observation of the various brands of tobacco ash.
“What do you say we get away from the city, Holmes?” I proposed, ignoring his previous statement. “Let’s go into the country to get away from the heat and this stagnant air. What do you say?”
In reply he regarded me briefly through half closed lids, then turned his drawn, lean face away to stare off, focusing on nothing in particular. Between his fingers a lit cigarette dangled, and a long, smouldering ash hung from it precariously like the sword of Damocles.
“The country is where one goes to retire or die,” Holmes said finally after a long bout of silence. “I am not certain which I would prefer at this time.”
My astonished and anxious look prompted him to raise a languid, yet reassuring hand.
“Fear not, old friend,” he said. “I may be contemplating the former, but not the latter.”
“Oh,” I said, eager to draw him into any conversation, and perhaps break him of the bleak melancholia that gripped him. “You would retire to the country? Pray, what would you do there?”
“I would study bees,” he said simply. “They are highly industrious creatures, and I believe their habits would prove fascinating.”
“Holmes, I am surprised you would contemplate abandoning your life’s work. After all, you have yet to reach your half-century mark. Though you have contributed more than anyone else in the world to the study and detection of crime, you are still young and have many good years with which to add to your load of cases.”
“Alas, Watson, the fleeting years glide past,” he said sadly. “I am afraid this new century we are entering is the beginning of the end. The passing of that great lady has marked the end of an era. I do not believe the Edwardian age shall ever compare with that of Victoria. What does it all matter? The best criminals are no more.”
It had been some ten years since the death of Professor Moriarty, Holmes’s intellectual equal and criminal mastermind who had challenged the great detective as no other had. Lately, when Holmes spoke of his old nemesis, it had not been with unlamented regard, but with a genuine fondness.
“I have often wondered, Holmes,” I said in an attempt to keep him talking, “besides your old adversary, the Professors, whom would you say was your most worthy foe?”
Sherlock Holmes took another puff of his cigarette, and the long ash dropped unhindered and seemingly unnoticed onto his dressing gown.

“Though I understand your meaning,” Holmes said, “I do not believe the word ‘foe’ is appropriate. Whereas I regarded some with contempt, I felt no ambivalence toward most of them whatsoever. They were merely at the opposite end of the criminal spectrum as myself. But in answer to your question, I will rate them thus: For cunning; John Clay. Though I had previously ranked him as third for cunning, the first was Moriarty, and I never personally clashed swords with the second. For vindictiveness; Jefferson Hope who trailed his victims across America, the Atlantic and finally did away with them here in England. The most dangerous due to criminal insanity was the poker-bending, venom poisoner, Dr. Grimesby Roylott. For vengefulness; Jonas Oldacre who after thirty years tried to exact his vengeance on an old suitor by attempting to set up her son for Oldacre’s murder. For sheer loathsomeness; Charles Augustus Milverton, the king of all blackmailers. The most sinister; Mr. Culverton Smith who, you will remember well, attempted to murder me. The most ruthless; the Canadian poisoner Tom Cream. The most cold-blooded; Colonel Sebastian Moran. The one for sheer audacity; Josiah Amberley, who murdered his much younger wife and her lover, and out of pure swank, hired me to look into her disappearance.
“There you have it, Watson. Have I failed to mention anyone?”
“What of Jonathan Small and his companion Tonga?” I asked.
“A formidable pair, but not the highest quality.”
“Colonel Lysander Stark?”
“An able forger, but an inept killer.”
“Jephro Rucastle?”
“Dangerous, but could not hold a candle to Roylott.”
“Latimer and Kemp?”
“Bunglers.”
“Irene Adler?”
Here Sherlock Holmes paused. His face, that had held a slack expression, now grew introspective. It had been fourteen years since he first met Irene Adler, and yet I knew the lady held a special place in Holmes’s feeble heart. We spoke no more that afternoon. Holmes grew sullen once again, and I suspected he privately brooded over missed opportunities and a lonely life.
After a time I rose out of my chair rather stiffly and, in spite of his saturnine mood, I left Holmes in our sitting room while I ventured out. For my own sake I felt the need to get out into the world, and despite the heat, decided to visit the Turkish bath. It did wonders for my rheumatism which was plaguing me once more. I left Sherlock Holmes alone with his brooding.
Once on the street pavement, I was more aware of the heat from a sun that hung heavily and rather misty in the sky. I had walked only a short distance before the heat and the pain in my leg forced me to hail a cab, which quickly brought me to the Charing Cross Baths on Northumberland Avenue.
At the rounded corner of the block, I entered Nevill’s through the Gentleman’s entrance, which was distinguished by columns. Inside the door I paid my fee at the cash desk, then proceeded into the boot room where I stored my boots, and placed my valuables in an individual locker. For those not familiar with a Turkish Bath, it is a series of warm rooms and baths that was introduced from the east. The Bath had come to Britain almost fifty years ago and gained popularity for its regenerative properties.
I walked down the wide mahogany staircase that led to the tepidarium, or warm room situated in the basement. In the tepidarium I sat upon one of the marble seats and rested my back against the Indian matting. The room was very relaxing and richly decorated with stained glass windows, mosaic floor, and enamelled iron ceiling. After a sufficient time in the tepidarium, I received a massage, then a shower, and was ready for the cooling room. The cooling room was on the main floor and consisted of two areas, the gallery which was gilded, and balustraded by columns from the red lower level. Stained-glass windows were on both levels, and on the ceiling was a splendid octagonal dome with stained glass panels on the inside. I lay down upon one of the couches, looking up at the dome and feeling more relaxed than I had for weeks. My eyes and I would have undoubtedly fallen asleep, when a voice spoke out, “I say, Watson, it that you?”
I opened my eyes with a bit of a start and attempted to focus on the figure that stood before me. It was a vaguely familiar face, one that I knew I should recognize, but my mind was sluggish from the day’s heat and my relaxed state. The man, whose hair and mustache held a hint of grey, stared at me with a smile until I finally exclaimed, “Stamford!”
His smile broke into a wide grin and I rose to clasp the right hand he held out in front of him. Stamford shook my hand in a firm grip and motioned me to sit while he pulled up a basket chair opposite me.
“Well Watson, how long has it been?” he asked. “Sixteen years? When did we see each other last?”
“It was longer ago than that,” I answered, “And it was at Bart’s”
“When I was your dresser.”
“No, it was after that. You introduced me to Sherlock Holmes.”
“Of course! How could I have forgotten? I have followed his exploits over the years. And to think you were able to chronicle his adventures because I introduced you both.”
“It was a momentous meeting,” I said and we both laughed.
“So, Stamford, what have you been doing all these years?”
“I hung out my shingle years ago, and have a lucrative practice.”
“Good for you.”
“It was not good for everyone,” Stamford said taking on a sober tone. “I took over the practice from Doctor Markham.”
“Henry Markham! I remember him from St. Bartholomew’s. Very promising.”
“That is what we all thought, but he fell prey to his own obsessions.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“He developed an addiction to morphine. I thought he had beaten the addiction, but he regressed and the drug killed him three years ago.”
These words had an abstruse effect upon me as my thoughts immediately turned to my
friend Sherlock Holmes, and the state in which I had left him. It was not unusual for Holmes to turn sombre and depressed when not on a case. Indeed, I had seen him thus many times in our long association. It had been years since Holmes had stopped using narcotics, but I suddenly feared that this latest mood swing might drive him back to the drugs, which, as a medical man, I can say with some degree of certainty, can have a lasting hold upon the user even after a long bout of abstinence. I began to feel very uneasy in regards to my friend’s state of mind, and the more I prayed upon it, the more fear crept into my thoughts. I hastily made my apologies to Stamford with a promise to seeing him again soon, and quickly left the cooling room to gather up my belongings all the while rebuking myself for leaving Holmes in such a vulnerable state.
I returned to Baker Street renewed and refreshed, yet filled with apprehension about my friend. I was surprised to find Sherlock Holmes in a much better mood than when I had left. I could not imagine what had brightened his spirits since my departure, but I was grateful and relieved nevertheless.
“How was your bath, friend Watson?” Holmes asked almost cheerfully while he thumbed through some obscure volume. “You rheumatism is better, I take it.”
“Yes,” I replied slowly. “Much better, thank you. How did you know I went to the bath? I did not say where I was going.”
Sherlock Holmes chuckled. “No, you did not, but I observed that when you rose from your chair you did so rather stiffly, and you winced slightly from pain, which told me your rheumatism was plaguing you again. You were gone for exactly one hour and thirty-seven minutes, which is the time you usually spend when you go out to Nevill’s. In addition to that is the fact that you look quite refreshed and appear more spry, which, when taken altogether tells me that you visited the bath.”
I gave Holmes a slightly astonished expression with raised brows and open mouth, though after all these years I should not have been the least bit surprised that he could so effortlessly read my history.
“And you, Holmes,” I said, “what is it that occupies your attention so much so that you seem less sullen than when I left you? If I recall, you were bemoaning the terribly lawful times in which we live, the total absence of criminal masterminds, and seriously contemplating retirement and bees.”
“True, all true,” he replied still searching through his books and papers. “Presently I am endeavouring to learn the significance of the geometric figure of the triangle.”
“The triangle? Why the deuce are you interested in the triangle?”
Holmes looked at me with a grin then laughed. “It is times like this that I recall Carlyle’s words: ‘Work is the grand cure of all the maladies and miseries that ever beset mankind.’”
“Work? What work? I say, Holmes, what could have happened in the ninety-seven minutes that I left you?”
With a playful grin still on his face he said, “A man has been murdered! Can you believe the luck?”


Thursday, September 28, 2017

New Sherlock Holmes Title!

First time in paperback!
Cold-Hearted Murder by Stephen Gaspar

In 1901, during one of the hottest summers in recent memory, London is experiencing some 'cold' killings. The victims are being ritualistically mutilated. As chance would have it, the first victim was a potential client of Mr. Sherlock Holmes who the great detective failed to assist. Now Holmes and Watson are tracking down the murderers. Fantastically, the entire grisly matter began in the wilds of the Canadian Northwest during the great Klondike Gold Rush. Can the incomparable Sherlock Holmes trap the killers, or will it prove his undoing?

Cold-Hearted Murder is one of the most baffling and bizarre cases Sherlock Holmes has ever investigated. Why are the victims being monstrously mutilated? Why are they being murdered in cold locations? What is the significance of the Golden Triangle?

As with his first Sherlock Holmes book, The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Gaspar has done his research in both history and the canon.
Cold-Hearted Murder by Stephen Gaspar is a Sherlock Holmes mystery reminiscent of the classic and iconic style as the very first Holmes tale, A Study in Scarlet.

Paperback version now available on Amazon!

 


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Timon of Athens - Stratford Festival

William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens has never been a favorite of mine. Even seeing it performed quite well recently at the Stratford Festival did little to enhance its appeal.

Timon is the story of a man who puts on lavish parties and is overly generous in his gift-giving (receiving a gift he will automatically reciprocate and give a gift to the gift-giver) until one day he discovers he’s broke and in debt.

Timon sends his servants out to his so-called friends who have benefited from his generosity to appeal to them for financial assistance. One by one the friends deny him, each one giving an excuse why they cannot lend him money.

Eventually Timon goes somewhat depressed and mad. Much of the second half of the play he rails against mankind to anyone who comes across him at his cave in the woods.
 
Timon’s problem was his over-generosity. His friends were only friends as long as he gave them things. He did not give to the poor but rather to those who did not truly need his generosity. There is no talk of Christian charity since Shakespeare placed the play in ancient Athens.

Timon of Athens seems to be a weak combination of Titus Andronicus (both have a dinner scene of revenge) and Coriolanus (both have a banished general who turns on his banishers). There do not seem to be very many memorable lines from Timon, but it does generate thoughtful contemplation on the subjects of money, friendship and mental illness.

The Stratford Festival theatre production of Timon was very good. The pomp dinner scene was splendid followed by a lascivious dance. It is practically decadent.
Joseph Ziegler was good as Timon, a very demanding role for a man of 64.
Ben Carlson as the insulting philosopher Apemantus reminded me of his role as the Fool in Twelfth Night a few years ago.  
Timon of Athens is a timeless tale and a sad story with a tragic end.

Stephen Gaspar's books are available on Amazon



Sunday, March 5, 2017

Roman Era Mystery

These Forty Days

With Lent upon us my thoughts turn to my Roman detective story The Case of the Empty Tomb which I wrote over a dozen years ago.

I fashioned it after the hard-boiled detective stories of Hammett and Chandler.

The story revolves around Tribune Claudius Maximus who is ordered to investigate the rumors circulating around  Jerusalem of a recently crucified Jew who has been seen alive.

If this sounds familiar, you might be thinking of a film released in 2016 called Risen. Here's the premise: In 33 AD, a Roman Tribune in Judea is tasked to find the missing body of an executed Jew rumored to have risen from the dead. (I took this from IMDb)

When I first saw the trailer for this movie I was stunned at how similar it was to my story. I was so stunned that I could not bring myself to go see it.

I secretly was hoping that someone somewhere would see how much the movie resembled my story, but no one did.

But this is the Lenten Season when we could all turn our thoughts to Christ. If anyone is looking to a good detective story about Christ, I would recommend The Case of the Empty Tomb.

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Raymond Chandler and Shakespeare

The Big Sleep

I first read The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Knopf 1939) when I was a teenager, and to be truthful, I didn't like it. I much preferred the whitewashed movie version with Humphrey Bogart (Warner Bros. 1946).

I still like the movie but being much older I can appreciate Chandler's writing.

I was just re-reading The Big Sleep and was struck by a passage from the last chapter when the protagonist, Marlowe speaks of old Gen. Sternwood lying on his deathbed.

'What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.'

These lines reminded me of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 2, when Macbeth is speaking how the murdered Duncan is past caring.

'Duncan is in his grave.
After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.
Treason has done his worst; nor steel nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing
Can touch him further.'
 
 
 Raymond Chandler obviously knew his Shakespeare. In Farewell, My Lovely, Chandler's iconic detective, Philip Marlowe (Christopher Marlowe was Shakespeare's greatest contemporary rival)  makes a reference to 'Shakespeare's  Second Murderer in that scene in King Richard III.'
 
It seems that both Macbeth and Philip Marlowe believe that death is the end of one's life where we do not have to account for anything we have done in this world, and we are safe from any type of consequence. Both of them are quite wrong, of course, and there will be judgement  - The Big Judgement.
 
 
 
 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Henry V and St. Crispin

Tomorrow is October 25. It is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and it is also St. Crispin’s Day. Both of these events are tied together in William Shakespeare’s Henry V. After invading France and losing one quarter of his men, the young English king Henry finds his path blocked by the French army that outnumber him 5 to 1. In his famous speech to his men before battle Henry eludes to St. Crispin a number of times. 

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’


 And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;


And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.


Then call we this the field of Agincourt,
Fought on the day of Crispin Crispianus.
 
Of Saints Crispin and Crispinian, we know only that they were twins, possibly only fraternal. They preached the Gospel to the Gauls, supporting themselves by working nights as shoemakers. Around the year 286, the governor Rictius Varus tried to drown them, and when that failed they were beheaded. Crispin and Crispinian are the Christian patron saints of cobblers, curriers, tanners, and leather workers. Their feast day is October 25.

This month of All Saint celebrates holiness not as a spectator sport, like fans cheering the holy souls from the bleachers and then saying, "We won!" Those who only observe from the sidelines the spiritual battles in which our culture is now engaged, would be like those who were not at Agincourt.                                                                         

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon.